Progress Report | Reinvent The Wheel

GOAL | Reinvent the Wheel
PROJECT | Bridgestone "Airless Concept Tire"

Thesis
Flat tires generate more than 3 million AAA calls each year, and blowouts can easily cause auto accidents. But what if tires didn't need air?

Method
Bridgestone fashioned a prototype from recyclable aluminum, rubber, and thermoplastic resin, a material that's "strong enough to handle the [vehicle] load while at the same time easy to mold," says Hiroshi Morinaga, who manages the company's advanced-tire-technology department.

Results
Because the interlacing spokes are curved and flexible--as opposed to the rigid metal in normal tires--it's easier for them to distribute pressure. "The bending stiffness supports the load," says Morinaga, noting that each wheel can withstand up to 660 pounds.

Remaining Challenges
1. Safeguard spokes
Wayward debris can catch between the curves, locking the wheel in place.

2. Increase durability
Because it's so malleable, thermoplastic resin sometimes breaks down in extreme heat and cold.

3. Don't pull a Michelin
The Bridgestone rival's airless "Tweel" was thwarted because it would vibrate constantly above speeds of 50 mph, generating far too much noise and heat. "Those have not yet been issues for our tire," says Morinaga.

Future Plans
The Airless Concepts are currently being tested on small electric vehicles (see below). But Morinaga says his sights "are ultimately set on creating a viable . . . alternative to conventional [car] tires," which are a $160 billion annual market.

Illustration by Crystal Chou

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